Out of more than 1,000 suppliers of direct materials worldwide, Rehau classes about 50 as “know-how” suppliers – those that it views as true strategic partners. Another 200-plus are categorized as “development” suppliers.” These two groups of suppliers are regarded as the most likely sources of innovation and collaboration, and the prime focus of the innovation scouts. Other suppliers are still encouraged to suggest ideas to the company.
“If we want our suppliers to give their newest products to us and not to our competition, and to be developing products together, we need a very close relationship with them,” says Rainer Schulz, the company’s chief operating officer.
Innovation in Action
The CPO Agenda article provides an example of the innovation scouts in action.
Rehau had secured a contract with Audi to supply a new high-tech bumper for its Q7 luxury vehicle.
As a Tier 1 supplier, Rehau’s role is to assemble the chrome, plastic, and other parts made by itself and several other firms, paint the bumper and deliver it to Audi’s factory on a just-in-time basis. The fact that there was only one heating solution on the market and it was expensive was not really Rehau’s concern, as Audi’s own buyers had negotiated the price and placed the order.
“In the past we would have just taken it,” said Schulz “But now it went over to the desk of the innovation scout who asked whether we could do it in a different and cheaper way.”
One of the company’s automotive buyers and scouts worked with an engineering colleague to design an alternative product and find a supplier to manufacture it. A little over a year later, the new system went live on the Q7, at half the previous price cost.
The effort has paid off not only for Audi, but also for Rehau, which has since had other customers and non-customers asking to “talk to us about how we can develop things with suppliers”, Schultz said.
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